College football Week 1: By the numbers

Our stats guy puts the top five teams in focus for Week 1, going deep inside the numbers to shed some light on college football's best.

Hawaii at No. 1 USC

4 — Hawaii punter Alex Dunnachie did a nice job of eliminating big punt returns in 2011. How'd he do it? By hardly allowing any to be returned at all. Only four of Dunnachie's 56 punts were returned last year, making Hawaii the national leader in fewest punt returns allowed. Thirty-one of his punts were fair-caught, 18 were downed inside the 20, and only one was a touchback. To contrast, opponents punted to Hawaii just five more times (62), but allowed 22 more returns (26).

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5 — The last time these two teams played, then-sophomore Matt Barkley threw for five touchdowns, tying a school record. Barkley was blazing hot right out of the gate in that 2010 game, hitting on 11 of his first 12 passes. The lone incompletion at that point was dropped. His first-half numbers: 15-of-19 for 190 yards and four touchdown throws.

66.9 — The catch rate of USC wideout Robert Woods last year. Woods was targeted 166 times in 2011 — third-most in the country behind Western Michigan's Jordan White and Rutgers wideout Mohamed Sanu — and caught 111 of those passes for 1,292 yards. (Divide the total catches by the times targeted to compute the catch rate).

4 X 1,000 — Like having skill position players who produce at a high level? You'll love USC. The Trojans have four offensive skill guys who put up 1,000-yard seasons last year. Woods (1,292 yards) and Marqise Lee (1,143) accomplished that feat as receivers. Tailback Curtis McNeal rushed for 1,005 yards in 2011. And the fourth player is Penn State running back transfer Silas Redd, who ran for 1,241 yards for the Nittany Lions.

266 — The number of times Hawaii receivers Billy Ray Stutzman and Royce Pollard were targeted in 2011. Pollard graduated to the New York Jets, leaving a 127-target hole in the Warrior offense. But fear not, Hawaii fans: 2011's No. 3 Jeremiah Ostrowski (94 targets) wasn't far off. He represents an intriguing option in that he caught a higher percentage of his 2011 targets than Pollard did (69.1 to 55.9), but could stand to become more of a big-play guy. Even with the massive gap in percentages, Pollard still produced more yards per target (8.0 to 7.3) than Ostrowski did.

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan (in Arlington, Texas)

6 — All defense, huh? According to FootballOutsiders.com's S&P+, a play-by-play success rate weighted for competition and other factors, Alabama had the sixth-most effective offense in the country in 2011. The Crimson Tide was No. 3 nationally in both Rushing S&P+ and Passing S&P+, showing off its balance.


The advanced numbers back it up: Denard Robinson was one of the nation's best in 2011. (US Presswire)

20 — As improved as Michigan's defense was last year, the Wolverines were able to win four games in which the opposing team scored 20 or more points. But the Wolverines were 0-2 when they were held under 20 points, scoring 14 at Michigan State and 16 at Iowa. How important was that 20-point mark? The one time the Wolverines scored exactly 20, they found themselves tied with Virginia Tech and went to overtime. Michigan then kicked a field goal in the first OT to win the Sugar Bowl 23-20.

28.2 — The Adjusted Points Over Expected (Adj. POE) value of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson as a runner. POE is pretty much what it sounds like: comparing the performance of a ball-carrier versus that of an expected (or average FBS) performance. It's also tweaked for quality of competition and the caliber of a player's offensive line. Robinson's 2011 rushing performance, over that expected for an average ball-carrier, put him third among quarterbacks and ninth overall among FBS ball-carriers.

42.6 — Denard Robinson's completion percentage in Michigan's two losses. He completed 58.9 percent in Michigan's 11 wins. He threw just 17.9 passes per Michigan win, and threw 30.5 passes per Wolverine loss.

179.7 — Just how good was the Crimson Tide's defense in 2011? Alabama put up a defensive S&P+ of 179.7. While that number might not mean anything to you, the explanation will. That 179.7 means that Alabama's 2011 defense was the most effective defensive unit since Football Outsiders began measuring S&P+ in 2005.

North Texas at No. 3 LSU

.277 — The difference, in winning percentage, between North Texas's 2011 season and the four years before that combined. So what awesome record did the Mean Green acquire to make such a turnaround? Oh, just 5-7. But even finishing below .500 was a big step up from the four years before Dan McCarney arrived, when the Mean Green went 6-37.

3 — The rank of LSU's 2011 defense in the S&P+ rankings since 2005. LSU had an S&P+ score of 159.6, falling behind the aforementioned 2011 Alabama, and 2008 TCU (165.8). That's right: teams holding two of the top three defenses since 2005 played twice last year. Kind of explains why touchdowns were so hard to come by in those contests.

4 — The number of touchdowns scored by recently-dismissed LSU defensive dynamo Tyrann Mathieu in 2011. Mathieu returned two punts for touchdowns and took back two of his five recovered fumbles to the house. Know which other defender scored four touchdowns in a season? Like Mathieu, he became a Heisman darling. Unlike Mathieu, he won the golden trophy. Charles Woodson found the end zone four times, though ironically enough, Woodson never found the end zone on defense. Woodson scored on the ground, caught two passes for touchdowns and took a punt back in his Heisman-winning year of 1997.

8:1 — LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger's touchdown-to-interception ratio in his only full year on a college field, a 2010 season that saw him lead Butler (Kan.) Community College to an 11-1 mark and the JUCO National Championship Game (the same one Cam Newton played in following the 2009 season). He passed for 2,678 yards that year, while hurling 32 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

41.4 — One of the ways coaches grade discipline is through not committing penalties. And in McCarney's first year, North Texas averaged 41.4 yards per game in penalties, the lowest number in the Sun Belt, and the fewest for a Mean Green team since 1999.

No. 4 Oklahoma at UTEP

Evens — Oklahoma has won the Big 12 title every even-numbered season since Bob Stoops took over as coach. Stoops started in Norman in 1999, then won the Big 12 (and BCS National) title in his second year in 2000. He won the league again in 2002, followed by 2004 and 2006, won in 2008 and most recently in 2010. Stoops has coached in seven seasons ending in an odd number, winning just one Big 12 title, in 2007. Six of Oklahoma's eight BCS bowl games have also come following those even years, with OU losing the two played after odd years.

2012 SEASON PREVIEW
All August long, CFN and Scout.com will get you ready for the season with these great features. But that's not all. Check CFN's 2012 preview page for even more coverage.
Aug. 1: Top coaches on the hot seat
Aug. 3: Meet the new coaches
Aug. 6: Teams that might surprise us
Aug. 8: Teams that might disappoint us
Aug. 10: Teams that could ruin your season
Aug. 13: Biggest unanswered questions
Aug. 15: Great programs heading nowhere
Aug. 17: Unknown programs on the rise
Aug. 20: Top Heisman Trophy candidates
Aug. 22: Best games of the regular season
Aug. 24: Toughest stadiums to play in
Aug. 27: Teams most likely to play in BCS
Aug. 29: Title game match-ups we'd love

2.74 — Oklahoma threw the ball well in 2011, averaging close to 350 passing yards per game. But the Sooners were also more mistake-prone than other pass-happy outfits. Oklahoma's interception-thrown percentage of 2.74 percent was the second-highest among teams that threw for more than 300 yards per game, as only Western Michigan (2.89) was higher.

15 — The difference in S&P+ rank between Oklahoma's rushing offense and its passing offense. But the gap probably doesn't go the way you would think. The Sooners ranked 14th nationally in rushing S&P+, while sitting at 29th in passing S&P+, likely the opposite of what most would guess. It's not unusual for a passing team to be more efficient running the ball, per S&P+. Rival Oklahoma State actually ranked first nationally in rushing S&P+ and 13th in passing S&P+, despite deploying a passing offense that chewed up more than 5,000 yards. It goes the other way too: run-heavy Wisconsin was the country's top team in passing S&P+.

69.8 — UTEP scored on just 69.8 percent of its trips to the red zone, dead last in Conference USA. But that didn't stop them from putting together an average offense. UTEP was still able to score 26.6 points per game, fifth-best in the league.

2005 — The last time UTEP ranked in the top half of its conference in total defense. Last year, UTEP allowed 441.5 yards per game, ranking ninth in the league and 104th nationally. Those numbers only get slightly better when viewed through the prism of advanced stats. UTEP was 87th in defensive S&P+ in 2011.

Arkansas State at No. 5 Oregon

5 — Oregon has lost just six times in the last three years. But here's the interesting thing: out of those six losses, five have come when the opponent has had extra time to prepare. Two of those losses have come in season openers. Two have come in Duck bowl games. And another came when Stanford had a bye week to prepare. The only team to beat Oregon over the past three years without extra time was USC in 2011.


De'Anthony Thomas pulled off a rare feat in 2011.

41 — It's not often that a coach moves from the SEC to the Sun Belt and picks up a better defense. But at least in going from 2011 S&P+ numbers, that appears to be the case. New Red Wolves coach Gus Malzahn coached offense for Auburn, meaning he wasn't involved with the unit that finished 75th nationally in defensive S&P+. His new team fielded a group ranked 34th, meaning that there's a 41-spot gap between the Red Wolves and the Tigers.

45 — Oregon is known for its fast-break, high-flying offense, but the Ducks were just as good at getting to the quarterback in 2011. The Ducks had 45 sacks, tied for second in the nation with Cincinnati, right behind Texas A&M. The Ducks were fifth nationally in sacks per game, taking down the quarterback 3.21 times per contest.

79.0 — Malzahn does an outstanding job of utilizing motion, misdirection and tempo to create open looks for receivers. It's just a shame he won't get a chance to work with arguably the most efficient high-usage wide receiver from a year ago. That was Dwayne Frampton, who caught a whopping 79 percent of his targets, the best percentage put up by anybody with more than 100 targets last year. Frampton was targeted 119 times in 2011, catching 94 passes for 1,156 yards.

400 — De'Anthony Thomas was the only player in FBS last year with more than 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick-returning. And he was just five rushing yards away from hitting 600 yards in all three categories. Thomas's biggest asset is his explosive speed. He touched the ball in four different ways — running, receiving, kick returns and punt returns — and produced a big play in all four. He had a 96-yard kickoff return, a 91-yard run, and a 69-yard reception. And though he only returned three punts, he took one of them for 48 yards.


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